Snapshots

Indigenous Peoples in Colombia face constant “paramilitary” aggression

At this time of year the weather changes quickly in the north of the Colombian province of Cauca. A sudden chill can arrive on any breeze, sending shivers through the streets and sugarcane fields alike. Intense but short-lived bursts of rain usually follow. And the sun offers little consolation, returning just long enough to see the surrounding mountains bested by cloud.The prospects for peace and regeneration in Colombia are as variable as the weather.

Right now proposals are being developed to transform the agriculture-driven narcotics economy into one that produces medical marijuana and coca tea. The valley that runs down from mountainous Toribio, long contested by the FARC and army, has been touted as a future venue for mountain-biking.But the stretch of land that runs where the mountains meet the plains, between the towns of Corinto, Caloto, and Santander de Quilichao, is becoming an epicentre of violence against social leaders that is shaping Colombia in the wake of the peace process with the FARC guerrillas. A report by the Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP) recorded 348 acts of aggression against social leaders in 2016 including 237 threats and 71 assassinations.

The three areas of Colombia most affected were Cali (35 acts of aggression in a city with a metropolitan population of 3.4 million), Barranquilla (18 acts in a population of 2.4 million), and Caloto (15 acts in a population of just 17,642).” The FIP report adds that in this wave of violence “indigenous leaders (who were subjected to 55 acts of aggression) and trades unionists (subjected to 51 such acts) have been the most affected”.The reservation of Huellas, Caloto, where the mountains meet the plains. Photo: Robin LlewellynThe reservation of Huellas, Caloto, where the mountains meet the plains.

The United Nations has condemned the wave of violence and observed that “75% of the homicide victims were carrying out their activities in rural environments, and that the methods of the killings and assassination attempts show a high level of sophistication to conceal the intellectual authors.”Responsibility for many of the attacks has been claimed, however, by paramilitary groups including the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles), the Rastrojos, and the Urabeños; groups that developed out of the right-wing paramilitary Self-Defence Forces (AUC) following their partial demobilisation between 2003-2006.

The Medellin-based think-tank Insight Crime describes the Black Eagles as “a non-cohesive group dedicated to protecting the economic interests of former mid-level paramilitary commanders scattered across Colombia… Frequently, paramilitary successors who have continued threatening or murdering journalists, lawyers and human rights activists have done so using the Aguilas Negras name. This political bent, along with their lack of a central leadership, distinguishes them in part from the other criminal groups operating in Colombia.”

ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Indigenous Peoples in Colombia face constant “paramilitary” aggression

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